This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 15, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we will be reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
This past week we hit the watershed point in the Gospel of Mark. Tuesday, we read about the blind man who Jesus had to heal twice—a beautiful metaphor about the disciples’ inability to see. We talked a little about that last week at “the table.” On Wednesday, we finally see disciples—men who couldn’t seem to grasp the power or the person they were trying to follow—begin to see. Like the blind man, their perception is a bit fuzzy, but they are beginning to gain some clarity; and, Peter is the first to see, if only dimly, (see Mark 8:29) as proclaims, “Jesus, you are the Christ.” And, yet even with this profession, the first by a disciple, Peter still doesn’t get it and, just a few seconds later, he’s being rebuked by Jesus who commands him, “Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts” (Mark 8:33, Common English Bible).
In the first half of the Gospel, Jesus is casting out demons and confronting evil. Battling evil often by himself and in spite of the disciples. What we’ll find in the last half of the Gospel is Jesus preparing his disciples for his death which is becoming more and more imminent. In the last half of the Gospel, Jesus begins to teach the disciples what it means to wield God’s power in such a way that their lives and the world is transformed. He is preparing, teaching them how to continue his work after his impending death, but it is a steep learning curve. The disciples will continue to struggle to understand what’s really going on and what’s really at stake.
In our reading for today, we find the disciples struggling to grasp Jesus’ teaching. They’re bickering with one another, “debating with each other about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34, Common English Bible), till Jesus sat down and said, “Guys you’re missing the point. If you really want to be great, then you’ve got to be willing to be a servant to all (see Mark 9:34-35), to everyone including the children (see Mark 936-37). And, stop comparing yourself with others. Don’t become jealous of what others are doing (see Mark 38-41). You need to concern yourself with you, making sure that you don’t ‘fall into sin’ and cause others to stumble too (see Mark 42-50).
I think it’s worth noting that the last half of this reading is not about committing suicide or maiming yourself. Jesus doesn’t want you tying a millstone around your neck and jumping into a lake. He doesn’t want you to chop off your hand and foot, or gouge out your eyes. What Jesus wants is for his disciples to take stock of the things that cause them to stray away from God and rid themselves—however painful it might be—of those things. Any temporary discomfort will be offset, says Jesus, by knowing that you’ve warded off eternal hardship in hell: “a place where worms won’t die and the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:48, Common English Bible). Jesus’ primary concern in this passage isn’t hell and death, it’s about preserving life. It’s not a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out, it’s about salt.
“Everyone [says Jesus] will be salted… Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.
In the ancient near East, salt was an expensive commodity. Its primary use would have been for the preservation of food. It would have been used to keep meat from spoiling and food from rotting. Salt, in Jesus’ time, was less of a seasoning agent. It was used primarily from keeping things from going bad.
“Everyone will be salted.” God’s love has been extended to all as a preservative. Salt is good. But, if it’s rejected—if one falls into sin—and the rotting process begins. How can it be stopped? How can one become salty again? Therefore, maintain salt among you. Be salty.
So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. 7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people. (Colossians 3:5-11, Common English Bible)
Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. (Romans 12:9b-18, Common English Bible)
12 As God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17, Common English Bible)
Be salty: preserve your own life and promote it throughout the world. Be salty. Amen.